Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bye Bye Blogs, So Long to Standards?

Today I read that blogs are passe, dead, a waste of time. When the question is, how can I get readers? apparently, the answer is Twitter. Hm.

I can digg (in fact, I really Digg it!) but I'm not ready to tweet.

Assuming there's some momentum and truth (or real worth) to back up the tweeting on Twitter, and Digg lasts longer than most of my web-crushes, then (you know what's coming) what does it mean for writers? and for writing?

I'm not sure, beyond the fact that it's acceptable to start a sentence like the one above with a lowercase "a."
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I believe writers are really, really important in any civilized society. Seriously. And not just the legal specialists who write the plethora of contracts, disclaimers, and warranties.

But it's been a long day.
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I spent part of it on a conference call with about a dozen eager writers who were, I was led to believe, all ready to jump at the chance to write for the website of a "major brand" in the medical space for ... ready? $70 per article. The articles should take about two hours to complete, we were told. (I suspect more like five.) Writers on the project are instructed to conduct one interview and use it to create 5+ articles on a given topic. And/or to source quotes from the host website - with attribution to the folks previously quoted on the host website.

Is anyone besides me nauseous at this point?

If we, the professional writers, are to repurpose and essentially regurgitate the same material, the same quotes, over and over and (I really HATE this part) reuse OTHER writers' material (even from "approved" websites - in this case, a partner site, but one with separate ownership and a separate staff of writers) how long will it be before what we read has no meaning?

Not very long, my friends; webspeed is roughly equivalent to the speed of light.

And the ugly twist in the wild-web-world is that while we can crank out "new" material with a few keystrokes and cut-and-paste commands, it's damn near impossible to to determine the relative age, or accuracy, of anything we read.

What if I repurpose a quote from a doc who was an expert in his field last year but who recently was indicted for having sex with his patients, prescribing drugs based on kickbacks, fiddling with research results to further his career at the big-name clinic?

I won't know and readers won't know, if I didn't do the interviews firsthand.

So for $70 you can get a pithy article on pinkeye, and say "goodbye" to journalistic standards.

That's a very costly mistake.

I'll admit that news of the death of the blog may be grossly exaggerated, and not at all related to the demise of journalism, however, there's a lesson to be learned in both.

I think it's this: While you don't always get what you pay for, even more often, when the price tag is low so is the quality.

In the case of the $70 medical article, you, dear reader, don't know if you're getting the story straight from the horse's mouth, even if the horse is quoted and the website looks like a thoroughbred.

Caveat emptor, dear readers. Writers, good luck. And fact-checkers, raise your rates. I hope you'll soon be in great demand.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Book I Want to See

I'd love to see a book written by, or heavily packed with interviews from, the '08 presidential candidates' speechwriters. Specifically, the ones who had to write the candidates' acceptance AND concession speeches.

Crafting either must require a blend of skills employed in both fiction and non-fiction. Imagine your candidate wins: the acceptance speech should be worthy of a page or two in the history books; it must address joyous supports and angry detractors from the other guy's camp; and it must set the tone for the next four years, at least.

No pressure.

Oh, and when you finish that, could you spend a few minutes drafting a just-in-case-I-lose speech?


Top-level speechwriters in both campaigns probably began their drafts in May, if not before the spring primaries.

I'd sure like to find out how they did it, how much the candidates themselves contributed to the process, and how far McCain and Obama veered from the written document in their live addresses Tuesday night.

Pssst...I'll write it! Simon & Schuster, are you listening?